The other night, I was having dinner at Boulevard with two friends who do not drink. One friend commented, “You know one of the things I regret about not drinking? I missed the mojito.”
Missed the mojito. How can anyone miss the mojito? It’s everywhere. Everywhere. I examined the tables around us and noticed glasses pasted with the telltale bruised mint on two of them. In February.
As a waiter, I see people ordering them all the time. All the time. I cringe when I order them because I know the bartenders are going to hate me. When one person orders a mojito, invariably, someone else will say, “Oh! I’ll have one of those, too.” and then the question and following anecdote are generally uttered (well, I have heard this exact exchange twice in the past month– enough to trip my trendy alarm) to any remaining non-mojito-ordering guests, “Have you ever had a mojito? I discovered them at such-and-such-a-place.” Funny, I didn’t know sheep could actually discover anything, unless it was a patch of grass uneaten by cows. Or that they secretly thrill at the approach of a Greek man. Discover? My cloven foot.
The fact is (or legend, at least) that mojitos, or some variation thereof, have been with us for a very long time. This is a classic cocktail, drunk in one form or another for since perhaps the late 16th century when the pirate Richard Drake created for himself a beverage of aguardiente (an unrefined rum), lime, sugar and mint. He named it El Draque (The Dragon). Pirates do not typically shy away from self-promotion. This concoction has been drunk for centuries in Cuba and the various other Caribbean lands Drake terrorized.
The other, more likely story is that the mojito originated as a thirst quencher for Cuban sugar cane harvesters in the late 1800’s. Apparently, the rum made available to them wasn’t of the finest quality, so cane juice, mint and lime were added to make the alcohol more palatable. The mojito became a popular drink among the working class at the Playa de Marianao in Havana by the early 20th century. The upper crust were still drinking daquiris. What is it with Cubans and yummy cocktails? Oh yes. Rum.
By the 1940’s a little restaurant called La Bodeguita del Medio had served one or, more likely, twenty to Ernest Hemingway. He liked them so much he wrote about them. Other great writers who popped by La Bodeguita were Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Even Brigitte Bardot is rumored to have let the condensation drip from her glass to cool her ample bosom. Of course, she is not famous for her writing skills, but she does love cats.
After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cubans fleeing to the United States brought their mojito mixers with them making them very, very popular in Miami. I do believe if one watches Miami Vice long enough, one might spy Sonny Crockett sipping one. So, America-wise at least, the mojito might be considered a retro 80’s drink. Eew. Yet, somehow not. It’s a great drink– just not one I would chose to drink in 45 degree weather.
The Classic Mojito
For one drink (though, even if you chose to drink alone, rest assured that about 20,000 other people in San Francisco are probably drinking one at the same time)
5 to 6 mint leaves
1 lime, quartered
3 drops Angostura bitters
2 ounces light rum
1 ounce guarapo (sugar cane syrup). If you are too lazy to find guarapo, simple syrup will have to do, but it’s not the same. Really.
Ice Crushed ice is ideal, but smallish cubes aren’t bad either.
1. Muddle mint leaves, bitters and 3 of the lime quarters in the bottom of a tall glass.
2. Fill glass to the top with ice.
3. Add rum.
4. Fill remainder of the glass with guarapo, leaving roughly 1/2 inch at the top. Top off with club soda.
5. Cover glass and shake vigorously for a few seconds. Garnish with remaining lime wedge and a slice of sugar cane flown in from your father’s sugar plantation. It has been suggested that one serve this drink with a straw. This might be fine if the person drinking is worried about lipstick smudges on his or her glass. If this is not a particular worry of yours, I would forgo it, since the bruised and battered mint tends to clog the straw at the first hint of suction.
A special little shout out to MojitoCompany.com for their help and information.